SEATTLE - To attract holiday shoppers, Microsoft said it will begin selling Windows 7, the next version of its flagship operating system, on Oct. 22.

The company confirmed the date Tuesday, and posted the news on its Windows 7 Team blog in the afternoon.

Windows 7 will succeed Vista, which was released to the broader market at the beginning of 2007. That operating system suffered incompatibility glitches when it first came out and, though many were resolved, Vista never quite overcame its early reputation.

Versions of Windows 7 will be ready for PC manufacturers to install on new computers at the end of July, a milestone also known as the release-to-manufacturing date. Retail copies of Windows will go on sale on Oct. 22, as well as computers installed with Windows 7.

As it did with Vista, Microsoft plans to offer a few versions of Windows 7, differing in price and aimed at differing uses - netbooks, home desktops and business users.

Shoppers who buy a new PC preinstalled with Vista before Oct. 22 will have the option of a free upgrade to Windows 7. The company, however, did not have details Tuesday on when the offer will begin.

Executives say they developed the latest version of Windows to simplify PC use. For instance, Windows 7 has reduced the number of steps it takes to set up a home network and to share music and photos between computers.

The desktop screen area has been decluttered of icons except for the recycle bin. Applications appear in a taskbar across the bottom of the screen, and when a cursor hovers over the bar, preview screens of each application pop up.

Microsoft is currently conducting a public test of a Windows 7 sample version called the release candidate.

"I've been using the release candidate and it seems to be in good shape," said Michael Cherry, an analyst at independent Kirkland firm Directions on Microsoft. He said businesses would appreciate a new Direct Access feature that makes it easier for employees to work remotely.

"For regular users, some of the changes they've made to the interface may make it easier for people to discover things they do and to use all the features," Cherry said.

(c) 2009, The Seattle Times.

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